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  • Writer's pictureCapture Politics

The Tories devastated whilst other parties make gains

Updated: May 14, 2023

The success of parties varied across the county, but one trend was clear. The Conservatives lost support across the county and lost many councillors as the day progressed, losing a total of. Out of the Labour, the Lib-Dems, the Green Party and Independent candidates all gained votes and seats from their downfall across the county. Independents did well in Bexhill and Wealden. Labour performed well in specific areas within Rother, Lewes and Brighton and even gained two seats in Wealden. The Greens Party gained many seats from the Tories in rural areas within Rother, Wealden and Lewes but lost seats in Brighton. The Lib-Dems also gained in rural areas within Wealden, kept previous gains in Rother, won an additional seat in Eastbourne and made significant gains in Lewes.

Figure 1: Party that received the most votes in each ward across East Sussex in the 2023 and 2019 local elections. Note: Click images to view them in more detail.

Lewes and the Conservative collapse:

They were completely removed from Lewes, where they lost all 19 of their councillors on a council they had overall control of until 2019. A combination of Green, Lib-Dems and Labour candidates benefitted from this collapse with all three parties gaining more than 5 new councillors. After, losing control of the council in 2019 the Conservatives would have hoped for an improved performance and to regain control of the council, not suffer a total collapse. Outside, Wealden this is where most of the Conservatives' biggest losses originated. They lost heavily in East Saltdean, Newick, Wivelsfield and Seaford. In contrast, the Greens secured some of their largest gains in Lewes, specifically in the wards of Chailey, Wivelsfield, Seaford and Newick. Now, with the Tories gone the alliance between the Greens, Lib-Dems and Labour (which effectively defeated the Tories in every single ward)) will need to be reworked as the parties now have so many seats that only two are needed to form a majority. Labour having gone from almost no representation to 9 councillors, may find themselves in the unusual position of being power brokers and deciding who between the Lib-Dems and Greens will be in government or opposition. This division of power could bring tensions to the alliance that so successfully targeted Conservative votes. If this occurs, it could stop this successful working arrangement and let the Tories back it in four years time. Also, in terms of the parliamentary seat, these results may bring confusion as to who will be the Tories’ main challengers, possibly resulting in the anti-Conservative vote being split, which might make it easier for the Tories to hold on., But, based on these results the Lib-Dems will believe they can take back this parliamentary seat in next year’s election.

Figure 2 - Change in the Conservative vote in East Sussex 2019-23. The Tories lost heavily across the County, suffering big losses in Rye, Eastbourne, Wealden, Lewes and Brighton. Note: click the map to view it in greater detail.

The rural areas – Rother and Wealden

As in Lewes, after losing control of Rother in 2019 the Conservatives would have been campaigning to take back control of a council they had controlled for decades. Yet, Rother also displayed large losses for the Conservatives, with them losing 4 councillors, leaving the party with only 10 members. Labour secured more councillors in Bexhill, going from two to 6 and secured an additional two councillors in Rye and Winchelsea, leaving the party with a record 8 members. The Greens made two gains in rural areas and the Independents also managed to win in rural areas as well, again dominating former Conservative Bexhill seats. In terms of the impact on the next parliamentary election, Labour will perhaps take the most joy from this local election as they were able to secure Rye (which outside Brighton displayed one of their largest gains) and also improved in rural areas within the three wards that impact the key marginal Hastings & Rye constituency.

Wealden, perhaps the biggest surprise of the election, displayed similarly large losses for the Conservatives, with the Greens, Lib-Dems, Labour and independents all gaining from the Conservatives. Out of their ten biggest losses in East Sussex, 8 came in Wealden. The Tories lost particularly heavily in Uckfield, Heathfield and Danehill. In contrast, The Greens secured their top 10 gains in Marsefeild, Arlington, Horam and Danehill, allowing them to gain rural areas from the Tories. The Lib-Dems also saw their largest gains in specific rural areas, specifically in Crowborough, Stone Cross, Polegate and Herstmonceux. Labour, who historically have had no representation in this area now have two councillors and also the Independents increased their councillor numbers by 5. The Conservatives lost 25 councillors and this caused a former Conservative Party heartland to go into No overall control status. Figure one shows how former blue rural strongholds turned to the Greens and Lib-Dems and this occurred to such a great extent in Wealden it is likely that the Tories will be in opposition and that the new alliance in rural areas between Labour, the Lib-Dems and Greens will find a way to form an administration and secure control for the council for the first time.

Figure 3 - The share of the vote the Greens secured in the 2023 local election across East Sussex. The Green Party made big gains in Rural areas in Rother, Wealden and Lewes, but lost heavily in Brighton. Note: Click the map to see it in greater detail.


In Eastbourne, the Lib-Dems already had a majority on the Borough Council. However, although there was minimal change there were some important details to note. The Lib-Dems managed to gain a seat in Meads as one of their candidates finished in first place, with a long-standing Conservative councillor, Robert Smart, finishing in third place (much lower down than usual), only managing to hang onto his seat by 21 votes. Meads is not usual territory for any other party other than the Conservatives and winning areas like this demonstrates how some parts of the town are changing demographically and also displays the extent to which the Conservatives suffered collapses of support across the county, some of this occurring in their strongest areas of support. The Lib-Dems also took votes off the Conservatives across the Borough, helping them to increase majorities in other wards and make inroads into the two wards where the Conservatives still hold all councillor positions. Outside some rural wards in Wealden, Eastbourne displayed the Lib-Dem's biggest vote share increases, where Langney, St Anthony’s, Old Town, Hampden Park and Meads wards all displayed large increases in the Lib-Dem's share of the vote. This again shows how the Lib-Dems are strong in Eastbourne and that they may be able to take the parliamentary seat off the Tories next year.

The Lib-Dem share of the vote across East Sussex, 2023 local election. They performed strongly in Eastbourne, and rural areas in Rother and Lewes. They also did well in wards within Wealden. Grey means the Lib-Dems did not stand.


The one council that recently has not been dominated by the Conservatives or Lib-Dems, Brighton City Council, witnessed a Labour landslide, with Labour gaining 18 councillors, bringing them to a total of 38. Leading into the contest, it was speculated that Labour could take control of a council that had been split between Labour and the Greens and left with No overall control for two decades. Due to the collapse of the Conservative Party and the Green Council being punished for recent unpopularity, Labour was able to take seats off the Greens and the Conservative Party across Brighton, giving them a very large majority on the council. The wards of Moulsecoombe, Queen's Park, Withdean, Hangleton, Hanover, Westbourne, St. Peter's, Goldsmid and Wish all displayed very large increases in Labour support. Bella Sankey, who recently won a by-election in wish-ward, was re-elected and has been elected the new council leader for the City council and will need to use this majority to fix the problems that caused the greens to be kicked out of office. The Greens lost support and 13 councillors, including their leader, mostly in wards in the centre of Brighton, whilst the Tories lost heavily in former strong Tory wards, such as Wish, Withdean and Rottingdean, causing them to lose 7 councillors to Labour.

The share of the vote for Labour in every ward across East Sussex in the 2023 local election. They did well in Rye and Bexhill, Select wards within Wealden, performed strongly in Lewes (Peacehaven) and secured the lionshare of the vote in Brighton.

In conclusion:

The next four years will bring new representation, and with this possibly bring changes to decisions councils make and how councils are run. For the first time in many decades, the Conservatives will not have a large say in how any of the councils in East Sussex are run, and in Lewes, they will have no say at all. Having taken over rural areas, the Greens and the Lib-Dems will have significantly more influence than they have ever had over decision-making in the rural councils of Rother, Wealden and Lewes. In some cases, new or inexperienced councillors may find themselves in senior office and be confronted with difficult decisions with limited budgets. If these councillors can produce better outcomes, then the Conservatives might find it hard to regain lost council seats and regain control of lost councils. Yet, if this new administration does not deliver better returns then the Conservatives might be able to come back in the next political cycle.

In Brighton, the new Labour administration will have to work out how to use its very large majority to deliver better outcomes for the council. If it manages to utilise this political force to put political weight behind policy solutions that will deliver better outcomes then Labour could be in control of Brighton council for a long time, but if they fail to deliver with the problems they have inherited then they could face a backlash in four years time like the Green’s faced this year.

Elsewhere, Labour will find themselves with significantly more influence over decision-making than they have ever had in Lewes and Rother, being potential power brokers in both these councils. If Labour manages to carve out deals effectively they will find themselves with senior election positions and in control of important portfolios for the first time. This will give Labour more power over policy and the potential to raise their profile for future elections and continue to secure support in areas that until recently have returned almost no representation for their party.

The Conservatives will likely be in opposition in all these councils and will have four years to plan how to get back into office, but until then they will spend most of the next political cycle scrutinising the performance of parties that historically have been forced to sit back and watch them make the decisions.

Published 13/05/2023 - By James Prentice.

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